Mistress Pixie Fyre commands the room. She's standing in front of a dozen people, wearing a white button-down shirt and a black corset. She's the kind of woman who glows like she has eight orgasms a day.
When she speaks, people stop cuddling. They become alert, their eyes fixed on her. This makes sense: She is a dom, after all.
Behind her, LED lights are strung across the entrance to the dungeon. You're not allowed to eat here, a sign on the door reads. Good to know.
In a dark-pink, dimly lit room of the S&M coffee shop the MoonFyre Cafe, Fyre hosts monthly fetish nights and workshops covering everything from "electrical play" to the master-slave relationship to high-protocol service. Today, she's hosting Polyamory 101, a college lecture-style class complete with a PowerPoint presentation.
Portland might be the kinkiest city in the country, she tells us.
At least, that's what we've been called by Kink University, which named Portland "the kinkiest city in America" in 2015. A 2016 Guardian article was titled: "Polyamorous in Portland: The city making open relationships easy."
There is no established figure of how many polyamorous couples live in Portland in comparison to the rest of the U.S., but an estimated 4 to 5 percent of Americans practice polyamory, with 9.8 million having experimented with some form of non-monogamous, open relationship.
A lot of local monogamists are still nowhere near finding "the one." So, a couple of us decided to take matters into our own hands and find out what polyamory is about, at least according to some people who practice it.
In the course of the three-hour class, we saw an ex-military sergeant act like a dog, a vintage hospital room set up for "blood play," and a community of people so comfortable with fluid-bonding that they looked almost bored.
"Portland is spearheading the alternative sexual lifestyle," says Fyre, the cafe's founder. "We want to obliterate the taboos."
So she let us come and observe. Here's what we learned.
1. Every polyamorous family is different.
Fyre describes polyamorous families as a bicycle wheel. Someone is the hub; everyone else is a spoke.
"This is my family," Fyre tells us. "This is how I do poly, but there's no one way to do it. That's why polyamory is difficult to teach."
This is a breakdown of Pixie's polyamorous wheel:
Fyre is the "handler" of many "slaves," ranked by different tiers. She says most people need a flow chart to comprehend her family structure.
Angel is Fyre's primary partner. They've been together for nine years, longer than anyone else in the family. They're in a master-slave relationship, which is the highest form of dominant and submissive. Fyre makes Angel's life decisions, including what she does for a living. Angel wears a collar that symbolizes her dedication to Fyre.
Fyre's "secondary" partner, Dane, whom she affectionately refers to as "Boy," has been "collared" for three years. Dane joins the class from his bed in Minneapolis via Skype. Fyre is dominant over Boy, but it's not the same as master-slave level. "I don't control what he does for a living," Fyre tells us. "But I can control if he masturbates."
Finally, there's her tertiary partner, "Puppy." Fyre is not sexual with Puppy, who has a boyfriend, though Puppy interacts with Fyre as part of a power-exchange relationship.
"I don't like being property, but I do like having property," explains Fyre, commanding Puppy to bark. He complies.
2. You probably have no idea how these things start.
When we asked students in the class how they got into polyamory, they all chuckled, before answering, "Well, I was always kind of a weirdo…"
It seems a lot of people found a community in polyamory. At the end of the workshop, most attendees gave Fyre a long, hard hug, and there was a buzz in the air as they discussed plans for the evening, with many attending Fetish Night at the cafe. Fyre's Facebook page is filled with pictures from polyamory events and videos from MoonFyre Cafe parties.
For Fyre, her foray into polyamory was natural. She grew up living with her grandparents, who were swingers and nudists. She fondly recalls hanging out at the nudist colony and always feeling safe around older, naked people. She spent years in monogamous relationships before trying polyamory.
Fyre moved to Portland five years ago, finding a welcoming poly community.
"The community here is huge: swingers, polyamory, non-monogamy, kink, queer culture," she says. "I call Portland my diamond because of all the facets."
For others, they might meet someone who's already in a poly relationship, such as Puppy's boyfriend, who's in a "formal mentorship," learning how to be dominant.
3. Monogamists can be selfish.
Admittedly, many monogamists probably don't think about being monogamists. It's like being straight before 2012.
However, you can rest assured that polyamorists have plenty of thoughts on monogamists.
Some polyamorists say polyamory has allowed them to become more aware of their romantic selves through increased feedback from multiple partners. Poly is extremely self-reflective, they say. Most of Fyre's lecture centered on the idea that you have to be honest with yourself and your partners, all the time.
With monogamy, "I didn't feel like I had to have a lot of check-ins with myself," Fyre says. "Polyamory has made me own my shit."
Others say monogamy is too overwhelming, with one workshop attendee claiming, "I don't feel as well-fed, and I get real snippy. I get jealous and I don't like myself as much."
Another student, says monogamy can be selfish: "It's a lot of responsibility to put on one person."
Finally, there are polyamorists who don't see polyamory or monogamy as black and white. Being "monogamish" is fairly normal, with some polyamorous members spending a few years with one person and then reverting back to multiple partners or other members of the family.
4. There are rules. Lots of rules.
Although polyamorous relationships are distinguished by their perceived openness compared to traditional monogamous relationships, unfaithfulness is still possible—and deeply discouraged.
In many polyamorous families, a member has to get permission from all other members before being allowed to have sex with somebody outside the family. This is mostly done to avoid picking up an STD. Some families even require new members to provide medical records proving they are STD-free.
5. Not all partners are sexual partners.
In the world of polyamory, not every relationship requires a big spoon, and not every family member is intimate with one another.
For instance, Fyre's "Puppy" does not sleep with Mistress Pixie Fyre. Though Puppy and his partner are members of the family, they are celibate to all but each other. As you might imagine, this probably makes things a bit less tense for the partners Fyre does cozy up to.
We spoke to another man at the workshop who had been snuggling with a woman most of the day. When we asked what his "partner's" name was, he explained that they were in a brother-sister bond and didn't have sex.
The MoonFyre Cafe is at 5224 SE Foster Road. Check out its events at moonfyrecafe.com.